One look at employer review site Glassdoor.com suggests 3D Systems (NYSE:DDD) may have a serious employee culture problem on its hands.

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Source: Glassdoor.com.

Although 33 reviewers is a small (and potentially emotionally driven) sample size compared to the nearly 1,400 people 3D Systems employed at the end of 2013, it still raises the concern that there may be underlying issues with the company's work environment. Poor employee morale could become problematic for 3D Systems in terms of attracting and retaining talent longer term, which could lead to unfavorable long-term stock performance. 

The book Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business explored the relationship between high employee satisfaction rates and a company's stock performance, and found a strong connection between the two. Between 1997 and 2011, companies that appeared on Fortune's "100 Best Companies to Work For" list in the U.S. significantly outperformed the overall stock market. During the 14-year period, Fortune's 100 Best earned an average return of 10.32% per year while the S&P 500 returned 3.71% per year.  For an even deeper understanding of how a strong work culture affects a company's stock financial performance, head over to the Great Place to Work Institute, which produces Fortune's 100 Best list behind-the-scenes.   

Growing pains
Having acquired nearly 50 companies in the last three years, 3D Systems is challenged to integrate different work cultures into one streamlined operation. However, it seems the company's acquisition strategy could be creating a work environment in which employees of companies that were acquired by 3D Systems are at risk of becoming disengaged. Here's one reviewer's take:  

When you are a product of an acquisition at [3D Systems] this is how it goes. First they get rid of all the redundancies in accounting, IT, and marketing etc. Then after a period of time you get a wave of people who leave because they can't take it anymore. The people who stick around are resilient "A" team players and say to themselves "I can do this, it has to get better." It doesn't get better, and eventually those people leave after they are completely broken and demoralized.

This is a great loss, because new people come along who are typically less skilled and more desperate than those they replaced. Eventually diluting the talent with people who are compliant, and C grade engineers.

Although it'd be difficult to determine the impact of an uninspired workforce companywide, it's easy to see that disengaged employees could affect 3D Systems in terms of lost productivity and higher employee turnover rates. For investors, a weak employee culture could become a liability that doesn't show up on the balance sheet, but could still negatively impact operating results longer term. 

Feeling out of balance
Some 3D Systems Glassdoor reviews expressed that the company doesn't offer a solid work-life balance because management regularly expects employees to work well beyond 40 hours per week. This critique comes at a time when the company has chosen to aggressively pursue its market opportunity in the backdrop of an industry that's expected to grow by more than 580% between 2013 and 2020. Putting the two together, it isn't necessarily surprising to learn that some employees aren't pleased with the company's fast-paced and demanding work environment.

Arguably, the window of opportunity for 3D Systems to gain significant market share and solidify its positioning as the most vertically integrated 3D printing company in the industry may be limited to only a few years, and some employees may be frustrated that they're bearing the brunt of its aggressive strategy. Still, it's extremely important for 3D Systems' management to get its employees and its business objectives in sync longer term, because its employees will play a major role in contributing to the company's long-term performance.  

However, with an appalling 15% approval rating on Glassdoor.com, based on 28 reviews 3D Systems CEO Avi Reichental, who ranks bottom-of-the-barrel compared to the CEOs of the company's 3D printing peers, may have a difficult time conveying the need for this unity to employees.   

Company

CEO

Glassdoor Approval Rating

No. of Reviews

Autodesk 

Carl Bass

87%

329

Stratasys 

David Reis

50%

4

MakerBot 

Bre Pettis

30%

28

Source: Glassdoor.com.

Looking ahead
If 3D Systems is dealing with a potential culture crisis, it could indicate that the company's strategy of acquiring other businesses to grow its market opportunity may be flawed, and management would have to make great efforts to address any underlying issues it has with its culture -- especially around how it integrates acquisitions. Additionally, the longer these potential issues go unaddressed, the greater the risk that 3D Systems could tarnish its ability to attract top talent.

Judging by this small collection of Glassdoor reviews, it seems that 3D Systems has an opportunity to improve in this area. Although it's too early to declare that there's a full-blown culture crisis under way at 3D Systems, it's definitely something I'll be monitoring going forward. As former Costco CEO Jim Sinegal once put it, "Culture is not the most important thing -- it's the only thing."

Steve Heller owns shares of 3D Systems. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of 3D Systems, Costco Wholesale, and Stratasys. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.